Man City could begin new era of European dominance
Manchester City's head coach Pep Guardiola celebrates after his team winning the English FA Cup final football match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in London, Saturday, June 3, 2023. Manchester City won 2-1. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — If, as many expect, Manchester City wins the Champions League title on Saturday, it will be mission complete for the Abu Dhabi-backed club.

European football finally conquered. The last barrier to the game's traditional elite broken.

To City, the Champions League trophy represents more than just the silverware on offer if it can beat Inter Milan in Istanbul's Ataturk Olimpiyat Stadium. It would be a statement to the long-standing powerhouses of football that the team once dismissed by former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson as “noisy neighbours,” has truly arrived.

“So many clubs have destroyed projects and ideas because they weren’t able to win this competition, and so many have become big clubs because they were able to win it,” Pep Guardiola said this week.

For all the success City has achieved over a dizzying 15-year period when it suddenly became one of the richest football teams in the world, the pinnacle of the European game has remained just out of reach.

Abu Dhabi's ruling family changed the face of the sport when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought City in 2008.

Billions of dollars have been spent collecting the world's best players and hiring possibly the greatest coach of his generation in Guardiola.

Huge sums of money have been thrown at the stadium and training facilities, while a network of clubs around the globe have all become part of the City family, identifying and harnessing the best emerging talent.

Yet the Champions League has always been a step too far, with City - and Guardiola, in particular, conjuring evermore unlikely ways to blow it on the biggest stage.

This year feels different. This team seems too good to fail after winning the Premier League and FA Cup in recent weeks and already blowing away European giants Bayern Munich and Real Madrid on the way to the final.

Inter Milan - the third best team in Italy this season - will have to pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent Champions League history to stop City now.

The City fans who have been landing in Istanbul in recent days are here to party. There is a sense of expectation in the air that their time has finally come.

There has been a feeling among many of them that football's establishment has tried to hold them back.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations were designed to create financial stability in football by ensuring spending was balanced with earnings. But to many City fans - who routinely jeer the Champions League anthem before games - it has been viewed as a way to block its super rich owners from competing with the traditional elite like Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, United and even Inter.

In 2014 City was fined $82 million and ordered to limit the size of its Champions League squad after breaching FFP rules. Qatar-backed Paris Saint-Germain received the same punishment.

Yet City went from strength to strength, amassing even more world class players like Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez - and hiring Guardiola.

City was banned from European competition for two years in 2020 for “serious breaches” of spending rules and failing to cooperate with investigators after the publication of leaked emails and documents, likely hacked, that allegedly showed attempts to cover up the source of the club’s income.

City denied the charges and the ban was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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